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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Senator Harry Reid and a Scandal in Plain View

    The Boulder City Hospital in Boulder City, Nevada, dates back to the building of the nearby Hoover Dam. The original building cost $20,000 back in 1931, and was built by the group of companies involved in building the dam.  Over the years, the ownership, size, structure and location of the hospital have changed numerous times, and it is currently a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. In fact, the website declares, "The Hospital's success and long-term future depends largely on private donations from friends like you!" However, according to a recent press release by Senator Harry Reid, the hospital's best friends are now U.S. taxpayers:
Reid Announces Nearly $14 Million for Boulder City Hospital 
January 18, 2013 
 Washington, D.C.- Nevada Senator Harry Reid today announced a grant for $13,877,228 for the Boulder City Hospital. The grant comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development fund and will be used to complete a major renovation and expansion. According to the USDA, the hospital’s pharmacy, home health, lab and dietary areas will be remodeled, and surgery,  physical therapy, long-term care and the admissions lobby will be renovated and expanded. The Emergency Department also will be expanded by over 5,100 square feet. 
     Given that Boulder City is located in the desert about 20 miles outside Las Vegas, not exactly farmland or terribly isolated (the next closest hospital is about 11 miles away,) the hospital's qualification for a "rural development" grant from the Department of Agriculture is purely technical. The city's population is just over 15,000, so this grant amounts to just under $1,000 per resident. The $14 million grant is $2 million more than total present assets of the hospital, listed at just under $12 million on the latest available IRS Form 990. (The most recent audited financial statements on the hospital website are from 2007, so the 990 provided more up-to-date figures.) Contributions and grants in 2009 were $46,210 and in 2010 were $64,514, so the USDA has increased those totals by a factor of 200 or more for 2013.

    This enormous grant was announced by Nevada Senator Harry Reid's office with obvious pleasure:
“This USDA grant will significantly improve Boulder City Hospital,” said Reid. “I am pleased that Boulder City residents will have access to the highest quality health care services and facilities. Various elements of hospital will be strengthened, from its Emergency Department to surgery areas. I will continue to work hard so Nevada communities benefit from the very best resources and amenities.”
    This is not the first time the hospital has hit the jackpot with Harry Reid.  An article in the Fall 2010 newsletter noted the Senator's help with a grant in 2010 ("Were it not for the grant we received through Senator Reid in the 2010 Omnibus Spending Bill...") and Senator Reid's office pegged that grant at $1 million. (It is not apparent why that $1 million does not appear on the hospital's 2010 Form 990.) Three years later, the Senate Majority leader managed to better his earlier efforts by 14 times that $1 million.

    At issue here is not whether Boulder City Hospital needed $15 million. The issue is whether a country that is $16.5 trillion in debt, increasing $4 billion per day, should be giving a hospital in Nevada a grant that amounts to $1,000 per resident so those constituents of Harry Reid can "benefit from the very best resources and amenities."  The government blows through $15,000,000 every five minutes, but even the nearby casinos might choke on $15 million worth of "amenities."

    This grant represents not a shady back room deal, but a scandal in plain view that is endlessly repeated in the press releases of many of the other 534 members of Congress. What America needs is not a debt ceiling, but a fiscal Hoover dam that will once and for all control the torrent of money flowing through the Capitol in Washington, DC.  Let us hope that some in the 113th Congress will be up to the task.

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